Does the Common Core say 3 times 4 is 11?

I’ve heard this far too many times in the last few weeks.

A young lady named Glyn Wright is quoted over and over as saying,

“So 3 times 4 can now equal 11 so long as a student can effectively explain how they reached that answer.”

She apparently got her information about the Common Core State Standards from this video:

Glyn Wright has misunderstood the video.

Listen carefully to the video at 0:20 – an audience member says, “But we’d be correcting them, right?”

To which the speaker say, “Oh, absolutely! Absolutely.”

You might ask, as one of the YouTube video’s commentators did, “How can a student possibly explain that 3 times 4 is 11?”

Here’s how a kid can get 11 from 3 x 4…

Suppose a child arranges 3 rows of 4 raisins each on a table.

Then he counts them – but he counts them incorrectly and gets 11. (This is common – little kids get distracted and often over or under count.)

He deduces that 3 rows of 4 raisins total 11 – the amount he counted.

He’s shown that creating an array of 3 by 4 is the same as the product 3 times 4. Thus demonstrating that he fully understands the concept of multiplication.

His count was off. Not his idea of what multiplication really is.

Therefore he’s not wrong – he merely needs to correct his counting.

Given the opportunity – by a teacher who recognizes where his error really is – he can self correct and finally arrive at the answer expected.

Why do people freak when they hear this?

Glyn Wright is a perfect example to explain this. Her bio claims no math, math teaching or any education background. In fact, she majored in English and Professional Writing – which means it’s likely she stopped her math education at College Algebra.

I’ve been knee deep in college math education for almost 20 years, so I know what this means.

When she was in school, if she would have said that 3 times 4 is 11, she would have been told it was wrong. It’s unlikely she’s ever had a math teacher say, “Let’s investigate how you got that.”

She’s one of the people conditioned that math is a bunch of absolutes. That there’s no creativity, flexible thinking or even enjoyment in math.

She’s the reason we have classes like Stanford’s How to Learn Math and why Paul Lockhart wrote A Mathematician’s Lament.

She’s part of the generation the Common Core is trying to correct.

Glyn Wright’s attitude is the exact reason we need change in math education.

And it’s not her fault.

I got a little hot headed and tweeted something snippy after I read the Fox News article where she was quoted. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea.

In fact, she’s just like my students. Math has been done to her. She never got to see it for it’s beauty.

For that I truly apologize. Both for my snippiness and for the years of beautiful math that’ve been stolen from her.

Nobody – ever – has said that 3 times 4 is 11 (except in abstract algebra, but that’s a different post).

The point is that we want students to think and explore. And we don’t want teachers crushing them when they do.

P.S. I’d love your thoughts – post them in the comments or holler at me on twitter.

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5 Responses to Does the Common Core say 3 times 4 is 11?

1. Shawn Anderson says:

I think I understand this concept about the math. My biggest problem with common core is the replacement of classical literature with statist propaganda.

• Bon says:

I understand, but this isn’t my battle. If people are learning to think using classical lit or statist garbage – at least they’re thinking.

With the current state of math education, we aren’t even teaching them to think.

The CCSS might not be the answer, but the Standards for Mathematical Practice part of the CCSS are sure a step in the right direction.

2. JoAnn Jouett says:

Stanford Professor, James Milgram, who was the ONLY mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards because he concluded that they don’t even fully cover the material in a solid geometry or second-year algebra course. He told the Texas state legislature that the Common Core Standards are “in large measure a political document that…is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results.” I suppose his credentials may be enough to satisfy even you, the “math mom.”

3. Molly Tim says:

I understand that teachers need to be “flexible” as I taught first grade in public school. I still don’t get the fact that it’s ok for them to go on thinking math is an estimate and is not exact. When you have your home measured for carpet do you want the company to “get close enough” when they order your carpet or do you want an exact fit? It is dummying down our children’s education and it is sad. I don’t see anything wrong with learning addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts accurately. We all survived it so why can’t these kids today?

• Bon says:

A few things, Molly:

First, 11 is not an estimate for 3 x 4. It is inaccurate. Flat out. The point isn’t that it’s wrong or right, though. The point is that had the child counted correctly, the answer would have been correct. The error wasn’t in understanding multiplication – it was in counting. Very different.

Secondly, we do an awful lot of estimating. When someone asks how much the carpet will be in their home to a salesman, he often responds, “I’ll have to work it up.” To which the homeowner will say, “Well, I need a ballpark – are we talking \$500 or \$5000?”

And if you’ve ever seen the leftover carpet after your house has been remodeled, you know that indeed they did not calculate correctly.

But the biggest problem, though, is that we “survived” math before. This is clearly not the way we want math viewed. We would never say we survived learning how to read. And yet even educators like yourself are okay with saying that you survived math.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Molly!

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